Monday, 29 November 2004

...continued

Really suffered this morning, due to yesterday's lie in. Didn't feel tired last night at all, and it was gone midnight before I went to bed. And when the alarm went off at 5:45am...

Still, there were a couple of good biography programmes on TV last night. One on Sid James (not sure if the timing was significant), the other on Freddie Mercury. Last week was the (quick calculation...) thirteenth anniversary of his death.

Should say a little more about the Rory Bremner book ("You Are Here"), really, since its not the kind of book I'd typically go for. In reality, although Rory Bremner is the "big name" on the front of the book, he's backed by a couple of guys (John Bird and John Fortune) who are sharp as tacks. Found out about the book from the Radio 4 arts programme which is on after The Archers (Front Row?), in which Bremner was interviewed. He mentioned a couple of "teaser" statistics such as:
  • The Americans have spent over $26 trillion on Defence since the end of the Second World War, which would work out at $26 million per day, since the birth of Christ
while in the UK...
  • the Department of Education and the Cabinet Office each had a committee, which looked into the specific issue of Duplication in Education. Neither knew that the other existed.
Enough said, I had to buy it.

Sunday, 28 November 2004

Gosh, its been a whole week since I wrote anything. Well, in fairness, nothing much has happened.
Been very busy at the client's, I'm doing a new piece of work for them and would really like to get it sorted in time for christmas. But it does at least mean that there's a lot going on. To my detriment, however, I haven't really had the time to look for new work.

Jacqueline had a stall yesterday at a Christmas Fayre in a local village, to sell her crafty things. She actually did quite well out of it I think, and Alice and I tagged along. Given that the village was up in the forest, Alice had a great time since the hall in which the fayre was held pretty much backed onto open countryside. So she made several new friends and was running around like a mad thing. Very dirty, but happily tired out.
Lazy day today, can you believe I had a lie-in until 11 o'clock? In fairness, I was up early yesterday. We headed into Bournemouth to do the weekly shop, then over to the Royal Bath for some afternoone tea. OK, but definitely a lower quality than last time we were there - didn't even come with clotted cream. Pretty awful day, grey and raining. Also quite cold, and dark by 5 o'clock.

Couple of things this week. I was after a song that I thought we had, but couldn't find it. So I joined one of these file-sharing networks. There's a lot said about copyrighted materials on these networks, but it was great to be able to find this song, a vocal version of "Sleigh Bells", which Alice had requested. I did download a couple of others that I used to have on a 12" album, but have never had on CD. Jacqueline was enthralled (she's into music a lot more than me), and again was looking for songs that she'd once had on vinyl but had never had on CD.

Of course, now it has caused a row since there were two or three songs that I had queued to download and Jacqueline deleted them from the list. The row is caused because I dared to say anything, so of course everything is automatically my fault. Forget about not messing with things you don't understand. I sometimes see where Alice ets things from.

On a more "normal" note, got a book by Rory Bremner, who is not someone I normally watch on TV. Very satirical, to be expected, but equally quite concerning with some of the facts that it raises. Not a particularly constructive book, it distains both Blair and the Tories alike, so I suppose from this perspective plays to popular opinion.

Monday, 22 November 2004

Wet Weekend in Weymouth

Quite a lazy weekend, nothing much happening.

Saturday, while we were still in bed, we got a call from Jacqueline's sister Lorraine asking us what we were up to that day. We were thinking of taking the bikes out into the forest, but the weather was sufficiently foul that no-one was particularly keen. Once Lorraine called, we arranged to meet in a "family pub" in Weymouth for lunch. The pub was a bit grotty, but I made sure I ordered something sufficiently bland that it was difficult for them to screw it up. The big bonus was that it had an indoor play-area for the kids. So (in theory at least) we were able to sit down while the kids went mad. Alice and Lucy (Lorraine's elder) loved it, had their faces painted etc. Solomon (the younger) also seemed quite happy, although having just turned 1 he's a little small yet to join in properly. Still, he seemed very amused to look down on me from on top of this climbing frame. Jacqueline's mum was staying with Lorraine, so they were all able to have a natter while I turned off!

Couldn't work out why the pub wanted all my details for the kids to be allowed to go into the play area. They wanted name, address, everything. Possibly its for Health and Safety, but more likely its for marketing purposes. So I gave them some false details, and off the kids went.

After the meal the weather was still foul (I'd have quite fancied a walk otherwise since we were right next to the beach) so we headed off to Lorraine's for a coffee and just to chill out for a couple of hours. Alice gets on really well with Lorraine's kids so she was happy. I had to mess around with Lorraine's computer, which was in quite a sorry state. It was about 7 o'clock by the time we left - just enough time to stop off at Sainsbury's to get something nice for supper, although after the huge lunch a ham sandwich was enough for me.

Alice was terrible Saturday night - too much excitement during the day I guess - very naughty. I ended up smacking her and going to bed very stressed out. Consequently Sunday was a very lazy day, spent mostly tidying the house (which does look very nice now, but for how long). We got an offer to go swimming which I publicly declined, just so that Alice knew exactly why we weren't going. She was better behaved yesterday, which at least implies that she knew she'd done wrong.

Good programme about JFK on last night, of course the anniversary is today. Also, over the weekend was the very first anniversary of my starting the blog. Who'd have thought I'd still be writing after a year? And I've got George Bush to thank for it! Let's see now if I can manage another year.

Friday, 19 November 2004

Fox Hunting

An update on the Hunting ban. Last night the Commons voted to invoke the Parliament Act to push it through. So, the Countryside Alliance are going to court today to challenge the validity of the Act.

Reading the BBC's web site, the Parliament Act came into being in 1911, when Asquith introduced the act to get his budget through. It basically only allows the Lords to block for a certain length of time, after which they must yield. It was amended in 1949 to reduce the length of time. But, in '49, the government had to use the original Act to get the new Act through. So, the 1949 Act was never ratified by the Lords. And that's the basis for the challenge. Seems a bit woolly to me - even if the '49 act is invalid, I don't think they're disputing the validity of the 1911 Act, so at best you're looking at a delay until a ban comes into force.

But as things stand today, the ban will be in force from as soon as February 2005. This could well be Blair's Poll Tax - I bet he is livid with his backbenchers over this. We saw this a decade ago when the Tories became pretty much committed corporate suicide by the acts of some of their backbenchers, I wonder whether we'll see the same here?

One more interesting thing about the 1949 Parliament Act - its only been invoked four times since its introduction, and three of these have been during Blair's tenure. Food for thought...

Have just subscribed to a trial of a French language learning course for intermediates. Apparently you get a news magazine each month, plus lots of bumf on vocabulary etc. We'll see how it goes...

Wednesday, 17 November 2004

Depending on your viewpoint...

Contrary stories in the papers this morning.

All the UK papers are filled with the apparent death of a British-born aid worker in Iraq, who had been held hostage for a few weeks. This woman was married to an Iraqui, and had lived in Iraq for twenty years. So she'd lived through Saddam's regime quite successfully, and only when it was finally toppled did she meet her doom... Anyway, as one can imagine, the British papers are (rightly) united in condemning the murder.

However, I was listening to Today on the way to the station, and they had a review of the day's press from the Arab world. On their front pages was the story of the wounded guy, executed by a US Marine in a mosque in Falluja. Filmed by an ABC camera team. At a time when Bush's policy seems to be to enforce "democracy" on people, whether they want it or not, the Arab press quite rightly makes the point that these crimes are being perpetrated by the world's largest "democracy".

Ironic that people from all sides are making exactly the same points, just with the polarity reversed.
I have been told about a program called "The Power of Nightmares", which aired on BBC2 recently but which I didn't watch. Sounds very interesting. The basic premise is that the likes of Blair and Blunkett, and not least Bush, are playing on peoples' fears of what might happen, however exaggerated these fears may be, and are using this position to push through some pretty draconian laws. I was also sent a transcript of a Blunkett interview in which he seemed to get very flustered and made little sense. The most objective interpretation is that we need more restrictive laws in order to allay peoples' fears, even though they [the government] know that such fears are not based on reality. He mentioned everything from terrorism to ASBOs in this argument. Really did seem flustered, and it really does expose the authoritarian nature they have.

It is things like this that make me think a lot. Without getting into party political viewpoints, I have moved quite a bit over recent years toward the left. There does need to be "socialism" to one degree or another. But at heart I am a liberal - if someone wants to do anything and it doesn't affect me (or anyone else), what right do I (or anyone else) have to tell them they can't do it? And you can apply that philosophy across the board and it remains sound. But I do find these supposedly "Labour" people very paternalistic, legislating for this, that and the other.

Can't let the entry pass without mentioning fox hunting. Just coming up to the end of the parliamentary session, so it's now or never (well, next year) as far as the politicians are concerned. It is obvious that the Commons want a complete ban, but they've entrenched themselves sufficiently firmly that there's talk of using the Parliament Act if the Lords doesn't give them their way. So all of a sudden a piece of what is essentially animal welfare legislation has become very important from a constitutional point of view. I heard also this morning that if it does go through, the Countryside Alliance will challenge the legality of the Parliament Act. Fun and Games - I bet Blair would like to set the hounds on some of his backbenchers for getting him into this mess.

For me, and I guess a lot of people, I don't feel too strongly either way about fox hunting itself. It seems totally alien to me that a right-minded human being would wish to partake in such a "sport", but then by the same token do I think I should have the right to stop them doing it? That's a toughie. But, as I say, this is all now lost and the issue is now a constitutional issue instead - nothing whatever to do with hunting. It's whether the Commons or the Lords are in control. And my opinion on that? Well, it's difficult because I think the Lords is in a state of flux at the moment. The power should lie with the elected, rather than the appointed, representatives. So today, the Commons should hold sway. But who's to say that the second chamber won't be elected at the end of all of this? Even if you conclude that the Commons should dominate going forward, you really need to look at how the process works because invoking the Parliament Act is surely not the best way to go about it.

Fun and Games. Must remember to say what finally happens.

Tuesday, 16 November 2004

Not up to much

Very quiet day. At the client's again, but their database has been down all day so there's a limit to what I can do. They've just asked me to build a pretty major add-on to something I built for them a year or so ago, so there's quite a bit of thinking to be done at present. Keeps me busy, better than there being too little to do.

Have been eBaying a lot lately. Nothing major, but just noticed some gaps in my CD collection, and you can pick up lots of CDs for just a couple of pounds on eBay. Obviously if they become much more expensive than that I need to compare the price to what I'd need to pay for it new.

Some books arrived yesterday - haven't invested in any technical books for a long time - so have plenty of reading material. Also got a web cam, which will be a present for Alice at christmas. God knows what she'll be able to do with it, I've never really taken much interest in them. But she has one at school so maybe she'll have some idea. I know you can get into video messaging etc. but I can't think of anyone else who's got this kind of setup. It's going to sit in the cupboard until Christmas now, so no doubt we'll be able to play with it then.

Monday, 15 November 2004

Awful weather

Absolutely foul day. Popped out of the client's office at 3pm and it was almost dark. Now at 5:15 it is absolutely pitch black. Picked up a small box of chocolates this morning as a treat for the family, but apparently Alice was naughty in school this morning so I'll have to keep her away from them.

Flat Pack Furniture

Pleasant weekend once again.

Saturday, I had to pick my car up (it had been at the garage for a service), so we wandered over to Bournemouth and brunched at Castle Point. We then left Jacqueline's car there and set off to the Purbecks for the day, with the roof down.

Much as I don't like to get into Christmas until December (at least!) I relented this year. I have been looking for a fleece and we happened to spot an outdoor shop in Bournemouth. We parked up, and found the perfect item. Very lightweight and very warm. It was quite expensive, but Jacqueline said that she'd buy it as my christmas present.

We ended up at Durdle Door on a beautiful, sunny afternoon. Quite cold, but we were all well wrapped up. Took loads of photographs (which are a\lready on the Family Album site!), and watched the sun go down over Portland Bill. The wellies got another test in the sea, unfortunately so too did Alice's skirt and tights, when she almost fell over trying to outrun the incoming tide. Back to Castle Point to pick up the other car, and some supper from Marks and Spencer. Alice was happy because we got her favourite, Bangers and Mash. I, on the other hand, had some Cod in Parsley Sauce, on top of a pile of oven chips. Heaven!

Sunday, Jacqueline worked in the morning, and I had a lovely lie in. When I finally did get up, I spent a hour or so updating the Family Album. The last time I'd uploaded photographs was in August, so there were quite a few to put up there. Having done this successfully, and backed up some of the machines (very important!) it was time for a relaxing bath. Lovely, chilled-out morning, even with Alice around! When Jacqueline got home we headed out for lunch and to do the weekly shop, which was uneventful. On arriving home, I finally got my act together to put a flat-pack bedside cabinet together for Alice.

Now, I'm not a fan of anything flat-pack. If you ask me, it's all crap. I'd sooner pay extra for something ready-, and solidly-made. However, yesterday I met the exception to the rule. We'd bought this one from IKEA, and it was quite cheap, although wood as opposed to chipboard. And it went together with absolute minimal effort. No parts missing, no swearing at all. And, when it was done, it looked very good and felt very solid. Very proud of myself. Alice even helped to screw the feet on! It's always a balance with anything for Alice, for she takes care of absolutely nothing, yet we don't want to stuff her room full of rubbish furniture. And with this, we just about got things right.

Yesterday evening we all - cats included - feasted on a roast pheasant dinner. Beautiful, we don't have pheasant very often. Then, settled down to Foyle's War, and settled back for the start of another week.

Friday, 12 November 2004

Armistice Day

Well, I'm ashamed to say that my earlier entry made no mention of the fact that today is Rembrance Day. Nor, in fact, did I consciously observe the 11 o'clock silence. With all of the nonsense going on in Iraq, it is very easy to be anti-war. But in the days of modern technology we have the luxury of being able to see far more of the "big picture" than people could in years gone by. You were pawns in the game, you just accepted what your leaders said, and went off to die. Very sad. We can be anti-war, but we should never forget the sacrifices people made for us. I'll never forget how moved I was when I saw the cemetery at Colleville.

Just watching Question Time on TV. Almost anarchic. They seem to have lots of input from the audience, whose comments are predictable, and are asking the same old questions (Iraq) which are predictable. All very bogged down.

Obviously Arafat came up - what do people think is going to happen. The audience is very anti-Israeli - the Palestinians have lots of sympathy these days. Personally, I can't see anything moving forward in the short term. If there was an alternative to Arafat, we'd know about them already. It'll take some time for someone to emerge out of this mess. I wouldn't be surprised if we're still talking about these things when Alice is my age.
Question about taxation. Tories want lower taxes, fewer services, Labour want higher taxes, more services. Tell me something new. The Labour woman has just told me I'm better off under Tony than I was under the Tories. Rubbish. The Tories need to look out, though, you can't just cut taxes and cut services, because the government has a duty of care to its citizens, but by the same token you need to make sure that your services run efficiently. The Tory guy (Francis Maude) quite rightly says that they reckon they can cut taxes in certain areas, but won't give any definite committments. Of course you can't, how can you say anything definite until you finally get to see the books? Of course he was laughed at by the likes of Alex Salmond, but this was exactly what Blair said in 96-97.

Interesting question about smoking. I think the Scottish parliament has just voted to ban smoking in enclosed public places. The passive smoking argument. One woman in the audience hit the nail on the head - that employers have a duty of care to their employees. Simple as that. So you limit smoking to places where people can't be "by accident". I can see going forward that places to smoke will be licensed in the same way that places to drink are. But the issue goes further than that, and this is where it gets interesting. What about people who continue to smoke? What do you do about their healthcare? Do you say "We won't pay for smoking related illnesses?" But, of course, these people have paid their NI contributions. And what about people who eat themselves into obesity and heart problems? I don't have an answer, but when you think about it it is a deeper issue than it first appears.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918), Canadian Army

We must always remember them, if only to learn for the future.

Thursday, 11 November 2004

Holiday Reality!

Heard on the news overnight that Arafat has died. Quite what will happen hereon will be interesting to observe.

Booked the summer holidays today. Ten days in Centerparcs, with a couple of days either side. Not quite sure what to do on the way down there - stop at a hotel halfway down I guess - but on the return it might be good to spend a couple of days in St Malo. It is a lovely part of the world, and we know an excellent hotel there (Le Grand Hotel des Thermes), and I've only really spent an overnight stop in St Malo before. It would be lovely to spend a little time exploring the Brittany coast. Doubtless the family will be happy.

Ordered a webcam for Alice yesterday. Never bothered with one before, but might be fun to play around with. Also took the opportunity to buy a couple of technical books I'd been promising myself for a time.
Car is in for a service and MOT tomorrow, so if there are no entries beyond this, it's because I've died of shock! On the subject of cars, someone hit Jacqueline the other day. The car was parked and empty at the time, fortunately, so nobody was hurt, but Jacqueline was right by the car so saw the whole thing, and got the woman's details. Should be quite straightforward, since there can't be any question of culpability.

Wednesday, 10 November 2004

Holiday Plans

Starting to think about Summer holidays. I think we'll go over to Centerparcs in the Loire for a week or so.

It'll be more expensive than this year's holiday, but looking back over the August blog entries tends to suggest that we'll need to pay more to get something decent! Les Hauts de Bruyeres, I think it is called. We've been to Centerparcs at Longleat for a long weekend, and it was excellent. So much to do there, Alice loved it and would like it even more now that she's older. Plus, if we go there for 10 days or so, there'll be sufficient time to go off-site - there's an awful lot of places in the Loire valley worth visiting. That'll keep Jacqueline and myself happy (we don't want an entirely child-oriented itinerary). Finally, of course, the fact that it is in France gives me the opportunity to practise the language, which is rare these days. We'll need to book a ferry crossing - don't want the hassle of driving to Dover and then from Calais - so it will be like holidays of old. I'm going to enquire about going during termtime, since it is so much cheaper, and places tend to be far less packed. Hope the school don't mind.

Alice, by the way, is also starting French lessons, at an after-school club. For somebody who doesn't even like the fact that she has to sit still at school, and put her hand up before she speaks, this will be interesting...
In the news, there is lots of fighting in Iraq. Emlyn Hughes, the ex-footballer, died yesterday. I remember him because he was the Liverpool captain in the late 70s, just at the time that I was becoming aware of football, and Liverpool were winning everything in sight. It was the fact that Liverpool were winning everything that prompted me to start supporting Everton. See? Always been a bit of a rebel, right from the word go! Fortunately, football no longer causes me the anguish it once did, having stopped taking serious interest a long time ago.

Last Saturday, a train was derailed when it hit a car which had been parked on a level crossing. The consensus appears to be that the driver of the car had committed suicide. Unfortunately, his actions left seven people dead. How considerate of him... Finally, Arafat is still hanging in there, although there's lots of smoke and mirrors as to his exact condition. I don't think anyone seriously expects him to return home alive.

Tuesday, 9 November 2004

Relaxing Weekend

Had a good, relaxing weekend. Friday, went to a bonfire party at the house of someone Jacqueline knew a couple of years ago, but kind of lost touch with. It was a "bring your own" party, and quite a few people turned up, so there were lots of smallish fireworks. OK, but too many really. All the kids had become fed up long before the supply was exhausted. However, there was an excellent barbeque and a huge bonfire, so we were well fed and warm. Alice enjoyed herself immensely, making instant friends. She spent most of her time in the kids' bedroom, playing "dressing up".

Saturday, had a nice, lazy day. Even managed a lie in. Jacqueline went over to Bournemouth in the morning to show some people around the flat - which is, happily, now let. I stayed in with Alice and we just bummed around. Went into Salisbury for lunch and a little shopping, then back home in good time for the Downton Scouts firework display, in the village. Better than Helen's, but not as good as last weekend. To be expected, really, but good fun.

Sunday, we had to go over to Bournemouth once again for Jacqueline to pick up some stuff she'd left over there. Afterwards, having nothing better to do, we went out past Christchurch to Mudeford, stopping at a garden centre along the way. We all bought new wellies, and found a pretty, "christmassy" tree. At Mudeford, we had an excellent walk along the beach, paddling, of course, in our new wellies. Took some photographs - when I picked the camera up I realised that there were photos on there from September, must update the album soon! - although it was quite misty. As it got darker we could just about see the red light of the Needles lighthouse, about 8 miles away, but we couldn't see the Isle of Wight coast at all. All in all, lovely. We'd all love to live somewhere near the sea, and the beaches from the Forest westwards are absolutely beautiful, its just a question of the daily commute to town.

Anyway, excellent day.

Back to London yesterday, and spent the day with the client. Really must keep on the lookout for some new business. Clients, as ever, are nice, but the work is just so bland. Oh, to get back into building systems instead of worrying about such-and-such a line of code. I do look back sometimes at what I was doing three of four years ago and wonder whether that was the highlight of the career, and everything will just go downhill from there. It certainly feels like it. Still, it's at times like this that I just need to put my "consultants" hat on, knuckle down, be professional, and reflect that every month I'm with the clients I own that much more of my house!
On the reading front, have now completed The Three Musketeers and started on Robinson Crusoe. Got a shock when I opened the bag containing the book - a wounded mouse had obviously scuttled into there, on the run from the Barn no doubt, and the bag had become the creature's final resting place. The only thing was, this was some time ago... So, the book is very whiffy, to say the least. However, A Tale (Tail?) of Two Cities is in even worse condition - that one had to be placed in a draughty location to air somewhat!

Friday, 5 November 2004

More deaths

Doom and Gloom in the news. Three British soldiers have been killed in Iraq, which is on all the front pages. Their regiment has only just moved up into central Iraq. What a pointless effort this is!

Funnily enough, somebody sent me a couple of interesting quotes yesterday:

"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

"By means of shrewd lies, unremittingly repeated, it is possible to make people believe that heaven is hell -- and hell heaven. The greater the lie, the more readily it will be believed."

To many people these quotes accurately reflect what we're being told by our leaders about things like Iraq, and the "War on Terror". Guess which eminent people came out with these? Well, the first was Herman Goering, at his trial in 1946, and the second was Hitler himself, in Mein Kampf.

The point I am making is that British soldiers are being killed, yet at the same time it is possible to sympathise with the "insurgents" themselves. They simply want to kick an occupying force out of their country. Were the French Resistance wrong?

In another development, it looks like Arafat is on his way out. No time for the man after he squandered the peace talks a couple of years ago. It is one thing to lead a rebellion, quite another to lead a state.

Wednesday, 3 November 2004

US Elections #2

Well, the US election result is now in. Kerry has conceded.

What I find really staggering is that Bush, who is nothing more than a Neanderthal, persuaded 58 million Americans to vote for him. Maybe I have this view because I am European, but Bush has no sense of history, and his handling of foreign affairs is that of a bull in a china shop. Not just simplistic, but overtly isolationist. It wouldn't surprise me to see the US ostracised because of this, and I would heartily cheer my own government were they to turn more toward our neighbours across the English Channel, rather than facing west across the Atlantic. And, as I say, this isn't just one mad bastard any more, he's carrying almost 60 million of his countrymen with him.

They elected Bush on the "war on terrorism" ticket. By "terrorism", read "someone who is militarily opposed to the US", which appears to be the new definition. Time will tell, I suppose, as to whether this approach is valid, but I don't believe you can militarily "beat" these people. The IRA were never defeated, remember, they were simply convinced that there was a better way forward.

A sad, sad, day.

US Elections

Alarm went off 15 minutes ago, and the news is exclusively the US elections.

Looks like there has been a huge turnout, the polls are still open in some places hours after they should have closed.

Bush looks to have it, although its very close. Very sad.

We put Star Wars on dvd the other night - it feels like we've got the Empire vs the Rebels all over again.